Pressure on the mind is usually caused by it being given multiple conflicting tasks. If you want to upset someone, then just give them mixed signals. Let them know that you need them to do one thing urgently… and then immediately say that you also need another thing done urgently.
At work, bosses cause pressure to their staff because they don’t understand this principle. Good bosses share the task of spreading the workload rationally, so that no one person feels that they are under more pressure than they can handle. Bad bosses just load up their staff, randomly, with new jobs, without participating in the discretionary process of managing the workload.
FIRST, ACKNOWLEDGE THE PRESSURE
If you are under pressure, then the first thing to do is acknowledge it. This may seem obvious, but a surprising number of people don’t acknowledge their own pressure. They leak sideways, starting to blame other people for not doing their jobs. Or they divert their anxious energy into obsessive habits (such as controlling their eating, checking irrelevant detail, or addictions). The human mind is, unfortunately, quite good at avoiding accountability for its own suffering.
My advice for acknowledging pressure, is to have a regular way of self-assessing, and checking yourself out. This could be counselling – several clients use me as a kind of sounding board. If I say ‘how are you?’ then they learn to take the question seriously, and perform a self-scan, getting to the depths of how they feel about life, and how under pressure they are or are not.
If not counselling, then journalling, or talking to trusted friends, can be just as good, as long as you do it regularly, and are honest with yourself and others.
SECOND, COMMUNICATE THE PROBLEM
Especially in work environments, many people have become little tense zones of unsharing. They sit quietly, frazzling, but the one thing they don’t do is admit how pressurised they feel. Obviously, some professions require a bit of dignity, and therefore a certain amount of reticence is required. However, unless there is some way of sharing the problem, it is hard to see how it can get better.
Good performers learn to communicate their problems to other people. This has several advantages. Firstly, it is a self-acknowledgement – you transfer knowledge about your inner stress to your inner circle of friends, which stops it being hidden. Secondly, it is an honour to your friends. Believe it or not, people are proud to be entrusted with other people’s difficulties. It shows you trust your close friends enough to share issues with them. It may even give them the courage to share with you, too.
THIRD, DIARISE, PRIORITISE, DELEGATE
Remember what I said about pressure being caused by multiple conflicting tasks? Well, this means that the best way to resolve pressure issues is to separate the tasks that are fighting for your attention in the present moment.
First, get your diary out and schedule for a future time anything that seems too much to handle now. For instance, if someone has asked you a question you need time to consider, then diarise when you’ll consider it. Do this for any tasks that seem easy to diarise.
Second, look at what’s left, and prioritise it. The easiest way is to make a list, and decide what in that list cannot wait. If you have more than one thing that cannot wait, then decide which one you will think about first. This is where counselling can help. Usually, people talk about one issue at a time, and postpone the others. By this means, problems can be separated from one another and are easier to think about.
Third, delegate anything that can reasonably be passed to someone else who can help. You do not have to burden others unduly – perhaps you can ask them to keep you company on the task. This is a form of delegation – you are delegating some of your worry by having company!
FInally, take your own pressure seriously. How will you ever learn to manage it if you ignore it or avoid it?
Try not to push your pressure out onto other people by blaming them, getting angry, or complaining indiscriminately. Try, instead, to acknowledge the pressure in yourself, communicate it calmly to others, and then systematically diarise, prioritise, and delegate.
Pressure is generally caused by having multiple conflicting tasks in the moment.
The aim, therefore, is to act as a kind of self-negotiator, reducing your own pressure systematically.
A good three-stage process is:
Acknowledge the pressure to yourself
Communicate the pressure to someone you trust
Do what you can practically: in particular, diarise, prioritise, and (sympathetically and kindly) delegate.
Good bosses do this all the time, collaboratively, with their colleagues. It is a skill which, once learned, acts like medicine when you hit trouble.